Where are you on the spectrum of solitude, or being out in the community interacting with others? Has our line between introversion and extroversion changed as we age?
Many of us struggle with these decisions as we go through our days. Most of us no longer “work” at a job and have fewer responsibilities as to being somewhere. But also, many of us are involved with many activities – we volunteer and are out and about on a regular basis. Plus, there are all the routine things like grocery shopping, medical appointments and other errands that take us out of our homes. Sometimes it’s exhausting.
Being solitary and reflective can give us a deeper sense of ourselves. It allows me to see more beauty all around me and gives me the balance I need. Yet, being outgoing and with other people and part of an organization is also fun, meaningful and fulfilling. It’s interesting to see new things and hear others’ ideas. It deepens me in a different way.
How much interaction with the world and with others is necessary and desirable? Happiness studies say that we need to have social relationships. We need to feel part of something.
I know people all along this spectrum, and I am amazed at how different we all are. My friend in Maine lives very much to herself, focused on a natural life on her land, growing a huge garden, getting in her 10,000 steps daily and moving through her days thoughtfully. She is deeply happy and content and I admire her.
Moving along the spectrum, another friend lives in the woods here and is quite content to be up there for days. Yet, she motivates herself to get to town to meet people for lunch, is involved with an important organization here and loves people, but only in small quantities at a time.
Then, another friend I know is totally fed and nurtured by seeing every play and attending every music performance and art exhibit she can. It is her life, and a very rich one. Her mind and soul are stimulated by all the beauty of the arts.
Then there’s me, somewhere in between. I am involved with many community things – different groups and classes, sports with others and varied activities around town. But I truly need my downtime and relish in the quiet late afternoons I’ve had this winter. Good times for writing, doing yoga, listening to music, just being.
When I’ve done too much socializing, I feel scattered and drained. But when I’m having forced seclusion, such as with illness or broken bones, then I can go stir-crazy. Where is the balance?
This emphasis changes with the seasons. Much more time is spent indoors and in solitude in winter, as it should be. Summer seems much more out there and active with the warmth and longer days.
It can be easy to judge others as to their lifestyles, thinking they are superficial if they are not quiet people. Or, thinking they are staying busy to avoid being with themselves. Or, they are way too reclusive and lonely. Solitude, seclusion and withdrawal do not necessary mean loneliness. Good things happen when we’re alone.
Bill Plotkin’s stages of life in “Nature and the Human Soul” say that as we age, we are transitioning into more “being” time, more accepting, enjoying, receiving. We are more content to just look and listen, rather than doing more. This may be true for some, but not all. Isn’t getting old interesting?
Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life and written a book, “The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.